Compact Home-Theater Speakers

I read in a recent Ask Scott post ("Building a System") that you thought full-range speakers in the system under discussion would be overkill for watching movies. One of the reasons for using bookshelf or compact speakers for the front left/right channels—tonal matching—was also highlighted as an appealing quality in Home Theater's review of B&W 805 compact speaker system (seen here).

I am looking to set up a surround system for the sole purpose of watching movies (no music) in a 12x12 room. As a general rule, do you recommend a system with matching front and surround speakers over a system with full-range fronts and compact surrounds, knowing there will be a sub either way? Most of the systems I see reviewed in magazines as well as all the recommended systems at my favorite local hi-fi store match large floorstanding front speakers with small surrounds, but your advice seems to contradict this.

Johann Dutton

In my view, tonal matching of the speakers in a surround system is of paramount importance. Also important, however, is that the front speakers should be able to reach down somewhat below 80Hz, which is the most common crossover point to the subwoofer, and not all compact speakers can go that low. As long as the front LRs can do that—and they match tonally with the center and surrounds—I think compact speakers all around with a subwoofer is a fine way to go for movies. In fact, full-range speakers for the front left and right are generally a waste of money if you're only going to listen to movie soundtracks.

Why do so many authorities recommend full-range speakers for the front left and right? Probably because most people also listen to music, and many audiophiles prefer the sound of two full-range speakers without a subwoofer. So putting full-range speakers in the front LR positions allows the system to do double duty.

On the other hand, many floorstanding speakers are not truly full-range—that is, only the most expensive models can reproduce frequencies all the way down to 20Hz—so in most cases, you're going to need a subwoofer with floorstanders anyway. Many companies make floorstanders that tonally match their centers and surround speakers, so in the end, it comes down to personal preference and the amount of floor space you have available for speakers.

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Jarod's picture

Yes I find the front stage being all the same to be the most crucial. Ive grown tired of horizontal shaped center channels as well which don't do much to help the imaging.

Jarod's picture

Scott couldn't have said it better and Theo you bring up some good points as well.

David Vaughn's picture

I prefer three of the exact same speakers across the front, which is one of the reasons I went with M&K S-150 speakers. It creates a "wall of sound" and it's difficult to pinpoint which speaker the sound is coming from unless it was intentionally done by the sound mixer (pans, etc.).

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I totally agree that Floyd Toole's multiple subs at the halfway points along the walls would be a good starting point for a square room.
uavtheo's picture

The only other argument that can be had for "fuller-range" speakers is you can play with an optimal crossover (as 80Hz is THX standard) and also if you have some bass issues, having additional speakers that can go lower could potentially help smooth out bass response. That's a whole other ballgame there. One other item to note is that you indicated a 12x12 room, a perfect square. If you can go for multiple subs, that might be ideal because you will have some predictable room modes with a room like that. Floyd Tool, who has been a guest of Scott's podcast, talks about perfectly square rooms in his book and (if I recall??) in the podcast. Your best bet is multiple subs at the half way points of the walls to smooth out bass response. Finally, Scott is dead-on with his comments about tonal matching. It's of paramount importance. Have fun with your setup!

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